How Effective Wellness Programs do Wellness Incentive Management
Every wellness program should be using incentives. They are an important part in helping employees stay motivated to make long-term behavior change. But sometimes wellness incentive programs become THE wellness program. The tracking, awarding, and processing of the incentives consumes the wellness budget and personnel time.
Too many wellness programs are not really wellness programs at all. They are employee incentive programs. This narrow focus on incentives means that much of the meat and potatoes of effective wellness programs has been completely abandoned.
The challenge is how to administer and manage an effective wellness program that does not consume too much time and resources. The nation’s best wellness programs are able to find a balance between the requirements needed to deliver an incentive program and the need to help employees improve their health.
Here are 10 things that effective wellness programs do to provide effective wellness incentive management.
1) They pick the right incentives.
The goal of the wellness program is to help employees adopt and maintain healthy behaviors. It is best when employees are internally motivated to be healthy. But sometimes employees get stuck in unhealthy habits and they need help adopting and maintaining healthy behaviors. The best way to do this is to provide small incentives, such as gift cards, to randomly selected employees who successfully complete different aspects of a wellness program.
Employees can qualify for a drawing if they complete a personal health assessment, biometric screening, a behavior change campaign, or a challenge. All employees do not get an incentive for completing the target behavior because that leads to entitlement. Instead, they earn the chance to win—sort of like the lottery, only not as big. Just having a chance to win is fun and is sufficient to motivate most employees.
For example, if a company with 500 employees has 350 complete a behavior change campaign, all 350 employees are entered to win a small number of gift cards, prizes, or event tickets. These small gifts given immediately upon program completion make the program more fun, create the opportunity for vicarious reinforcement, and provide substantial motivation at very little cost.
Employers get even greater adoption of employee health behavior with a benefits-based incentive plan. Benefits-based wellness incentive programs typically offer employees a discount on their insurance premium, paid time off, a contribution to an HSA or HRA, or a lower co-pay or deductible as an incentive.
Benefits-based incentives are considerably more expensive than randomly selecting winners of small gifts, but they also have more impact on employee engagement. Benefits-based incentives are made available to all employees who do the work to earn the reward. Many WellSteps clients offer a $50/month health insurance premium discount. This adds up to $600 per year per employee who qualifies.
The dollar amount of the benefit-based incentives should be large enough to motivate employees, but not so much that it creates an entitlement mentality among program participants. Benefits-based incentive requirements should be substantial because the financial incentive should also be meaningful.
We have noted over the past 14 years that a premium differential incentive in the range of $30-$40 per month is optimal for achieving best outcomes. When combined with simple, short-term prizes, benefits-based incentives will provide employees with enough motivation to get the wellness ball rolling until they begin to feel the internal benefits of a healthy lifestyle.
One of the best ways to make sure you’re picking the right incentives is to ask your wellness committee for input. If your wellness committee is composed of a good cross section of employees they will provide valuable input on what a meaningful health incentive program would be for your employees.
Here are some time-tested employee incentive resources and ideas:
- Use incentives, but don’t make a big deal of them. Make a big deal out of the benefits.
- Make sure your employees know what all the benefits are. Give them a “What’s in it for me?” list.
- Never use punishments.
- Use both immediate incentives and larger benefits-based rewards
- Keep the law. Use the WellSteps Compliance Checker to make sure your incentive ideas are compliant with the law.
2) They decide which behaviors, activities, or health status to incentivize.
Sit down with your wellness committee and come up with a list of behaviors, activities, or health risk levels that you’d like to see your employees accomplish. If this is the first year you are doing this you want to start small. Make it easy. During the next few years you can change the different items you want to incentivize. By starting small you give everybody a chance to participate in earn incentive and with time you help them make bigger improvements in their health.
You may have heard of incentive programs that are outcomes-based. The phrase “outcomes-based wellness program” may be confusing. When people use the phrase outcomes-based wellness program, what they are really saying is “We want our wellness incentive plan to be based on employees attaining a specific health outcome such as not smoking or attaining certain results on biometric screenings.
Outcomes-based incentive programs are also known as health contingent wellness programs.
There are many ways to set up an outcomes-based incentive program. Done correctly they will help employees improve their health. However, when they are done incorrectly, they can do great harm to employee morale and trust.
Here is a simple incentive program for employees that could be used by any worksite. It is outcomes-based because it rewards points for achieving a certain health status. The best part about this sample strategy is that it includes health risk status, health behaviors and wellness program participation.
|100 points needed to earn the incentive
Have no elevated health risks (BP, CHOL, GLU, BMI, tobacco use)
Participate in behavior change campaign #1
Participate in behavior change campaign #2
Complete preventive cancer screening
Attend behavior change webinar/presentation #1
Attend behavior change webinar/presentation #2
Go to the gym 4 times a month for 6 month
Meet with physician to discuss elevated health risk
Track your activity with a wearable device
Complete smoking cessation program
Complete an approved alternate activity
3) They assign point values to each reward item.
Wellness incentive management should always adhere to the rule, “simpler is always better”. It is tempting to create elaborate point systems that can be used to track progress towards the incentives. Resist this urge and keep it simple.
Make a list of all of the different things you want your employees to do to earn an incentive. Rank this list from the most important to the least important. Then, using a point basis of 100 or 1000 points, assign the number of points you want to award for each activity.
Give the most points to the things that are most important and the least points to the ones that are least important. Just make sure that you give your employees lots of opportunities to qualify for the incentive depending upon which activities they complete.
You can further divide your point system into different levels such as bronze, silver, and gold with each one requiring a certain level of points. It doesn’t matter whether you use hundred points or thousand points. What’s important is how many points you award different activities.
It’s also nice if you can create enough flexibility in your system that it will allow employees to get the maximum incentive with multiple combinations of activities. Greater flexibility gives employees greater choice and that makes them happy.
4) They determine which items can and cannot be verified.
With your list of reward activities ranked from most important to least important you can now identify those that can be verified. Obviously if you’re going to provide a lot of money or large incentive for a certain activity it’s preferable that that activity be verifiable.
You need to tread carefully when deciding which activities need to be verified. WellSteps was asked if we would help a large hospital system with their incentive program. They wanted to provide a meaningful incentive for those employees who were not tobacco users. Tobacco use can be verified but that does not mean it should be. This hospital system wanted to verify every employee who claimed to be a non-smoker.
Their plan was to swab the inside of each employees mouth to get a sample of saliva. From the saliva it is easy to determine who is and who is not a tobacco user. Yes, this is a very accurate way to determine who is using tobacco. It is also a very accurate way to determine who is lying.
Unfortunately you would have to test just about everyone to find a very small number of employees who were lying about their tobacco use. If your goal is to completely destroy employee morale and make it clear to your employees that you don’t trust them then you should test the saliva of all your employees.
But if your goal is to create a work environment of mutual trust and respect then verifying wellness points by testing saliva is probably not a good idea.
Obviously you want to verify some things such as blood work, preventative screenings, flu shots, completion of behavior change tasks, completion of wellness challenges and campaigns. If you have a good wellness incentive management platform all of these can be verified automatically with little or any work from you or your employees.
A good wellness incentive management platform will intuitively know who has completed which aspects of the program. Activities that are done off-line such as a lunch and learn, or a 5K race, can also be verified but may take some extra work.
The best incentive systems use a mixture of verifiable and non-verifiable activities. It’s easy to determine who has completed a health risk appraisal but it’s not so easy to verify self-reported health behaviors. And there’s nothing wrong with this.
Use your wellness incentive management platform to verify the important things and let employees self-report the rest. Provide more points for those that are validated and less points for those that are not.
5) Effective wellness programs make it easy for employees to verify.
Effective communication will make your wellness incentive program a lot easier for everyone. The best wellness programs use a variety of communication methods to remind employees to report their progress and to adhere to program deadlines. A good incentive management system will do this automatically.
Sometimes employers require their employees to provide verification that some activity has been completed. Today almost every single employee now has a smart phone. To make this process simple, the WellSteps app allows employees to take a picture of the verification and have it automatically uploaded to their account. Once it has been uploaded the account manager can see that the task has been completed and award the necessary points.
6) They make it easy for employees to view and update points.
If it is not super easy for employees to report, view, and update their points they won’t do it. Despite the good intentions of your wellness program, if it’s a hassle to participate and get their incentive points they won’t engage and your program will have no effect on employee health and productivity.
Here is an actual example of an incentive reporting spreadsheet that one employer was using. It looks very complicated and most employees won’t report their points just because they can’t stand the spreadsheet. It reminds them of doing their taxes.
Instead of a complicated Excel spreadsheet it’s much more pleasurable to use a web-based design.
Employees are constantly checking the status of their points just like they are constantly checking the number of steps reported on their wearable device. If you have a benefits based incentive employees will be constantly checking to make sure they have done everything they need to earn the incentive. In other words, a good wellness incentive management platform will keep employees constantly informed of their point status and incentive progress.
Without such a platform, every employee will continually be asking wellness coordinators if their paperwork has been received or if things have been verified, or if they have the necessary points, or if they qualify. Without this type of communication, the hassle factor for the wellness coordinator can be tremendous.
Here is an example of a wellness incentive management system that updates employee’s data in real time. It is an incentive dashboard that they can check 24 /7, using any web enabled device.
7) They automatically determine who has earned the different incentives.
Every time your employees have completed a wellness challenge or campaign, a wellness coordinator will have to create a database of everybody who has completed it and randomly select some winners of the incentive. At the end of the year, the same process will have to be used to determine who has earned the benefits-based incentive.
In today’s fast-paced world employees are not as patient as they used to be. They’re not too thrilled to find out that they have to wait several weeks or months to determine if they have earned enough points to qualify for the incentive. Effective wellness programs use incentive management systems that allow everybody to get a status update in real time. Determining who has earned different incentives is done automatically and a full report and database is generated.
8) They purchase and distribute incentives.
One of the most time and labor intensive aspects of a health and wellness incentive plan is the purchasing and distribution of the incentives. Depending upon the incentives that are chosen a wellness coordinator will have to purchase and distribute the correct incentives to the correct employees and make sure that the benefits department has the required data to determine who has earned the benefits-based incentive.
Incentives can be distributed electronically or physically through the mail or interoffice mail. They could even be handed out in person.
9) They handle appeals, problems, and unanticipated issues.
Despite careful planning and the use of technology there will be some hiccups in the management of every wellness incentive plan. There may be some unhappy employees who wish to appeal the reward decision. There will need to be a process in place to adjudicate these cases and do so in a fair and impartial manner that supports the overall goals and objectives of the wellness program.
Sometimes the incentives that were purchased and mailed are not received. Sometimes lost incentives have to be tracked down or resent. When these issues arise, it’s always helpful to have a robust, clean database of everything that has happened in your wellness incentive program.
10) They produce year-end accounting and participation reports.
Most organizations one a summary of what is happened with the incentive plan. This could include results from specific wellness programs and year-end results. There are many organizations that spend weeks producing these summary reports. It’s a shame that wellness coordinators and wellness professionals are sometimes spending an inordinate amount of time as wellness accountants.
Rather than coach the unhealthy or develop behavior change programs or lead exercise classes they are pouring over reams of paper and spreadsheets to manually calculate and determine point awards and incentive tallies. Then they spend more time creating charts and graphs that summarize the results of the program. The best wellness companies don’t do it this way. They use a wellness incentive management platform to show that they have an effective wellness program.
Technology has changed the way we track and administer incentives. Effective wellness programs use this new technology. For as little as 50 cents per month employers can administer a employee wellness incentive program with ease. With a wellness incentive management system wellness coordinators are free to do what they do best—improve the lives of those they serve.
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